Sea-Buckthorn: Cancer-Busting Berries!

2013-10-09_16-37-23_965The first time I bit into a juicy Sea-Buckthorn berry, the sweet and tart taste reminded me of two rather disparate things: SweeTarts candies and pineapple. Also known as Seaberry, Sandthorn, or Sallowthorn, this gorgeous ornamental in the Oleaster Family grows as a shrub in partial shade or full sun. In Portland, it’s sometimes planted in sidewalk strips. It thrives in the northern half of North America, though it is native to India, Nepal, and broader Eurasia; I first learned about it when Berlin Plants blogged about it three years ago here.

The bright orange berries of sea-buckthorn, Hippophae rhamnoides, ripen in early fall. As the months go on the berries actually ferment on the tree, so that later in the winter and into spring they taste like berry-infused brandy! It’s very cool. When you pick the berries, just be careful to avoid getting stabbed in the finger or eyeball by thorns!

2013-10-09_16-36-41_377Most people choose to plant Sea-buckthorn as an ornamental because they like the look of its lovely silver-green leaves, but it happens to be a nutritional and medicinal powerhouse. The berries (including seeds and pulp)  contain fatty acids and carotenoids, Vitamin E, Vitamin C — even higher than the amount found in lemons and oranges — Vitamins B1, B2 and E; provitamin A, rutin, serotonin, cytosterol, selenium and zinc. They are also high in antioxidants.

The berries are also amazingly medicinal with a wide range of applications from killing cancer cells to healing ulcers, and sea-buckthorn oil is commonly found in anti-wrinkle cosmetic products. Sea-buckthorn has a long history of use in herbal medicine, going back to ancient Greece and recorded in the eighth century Tibetan medical classic “rGyud Bzi.” The fruit has been shown in animal studies to reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides when taken internally. Sea-buckthorn berry can kill both cancer cells of S180, P388, SGC7901 and lymphatic leukemia. It has also been shown to have a stress-reducing (adaptogenic) effect. Sea-buckthorn heals ulcers and is anti-inflammatory, is taken as a liver protective agent, and — important in this age of worries about Fukushima’s long-term consequences — has an anti-radiation effect.  The leaves can also be dried and taken as a nutrient-rich tea. The leaves have been demonstrated in animal studies to be an excellent vulnerary (wound-healing) herb when applied externally and historically they were traditionally used as a skin-healing agent.

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Sea-buckthorn on a foggy day

(FYI: The fruit is the primary medicinal and nutritional part of the plant; the sea-buckthorn oil commonly found in cosmetic products comes from the seed inside of it.)

For identification: Leaves are simple, deciduous, silvery-green on upper surface, paler green on the underside, narrow, lanceolate, and alternate. The bright orange berries are densely clustered and arranged very close to the branch (as opposed to hanging like a cherry).

The berries can be enjoyed raw. They are very juicy and are commonly used as an ingredient in fruit juice blends in Europe. Because they taste sour, one would do well to add sugar or sweet juices to the mix. The berries can also be made into fruit wine or liquor, and also jellies.

Have you ever tasted this plant? What sorts of things do you like to do with it, if so?
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5 thoughts on “Sea-Buckthorn: Cancer-Busting Berries!

  1. I Love this blog and your writings. I just serendipitously found it when I was looking for mullein links to send a friend to help her, and saw a pic. of you smoking mullein :-)
    I wound up here. via http://ukiahcommunityblog.wordpress.com/2013/05/01/and-im-becky-lerner/
    The strange thing is, I was smoking mullein when I saw the photo.
    I have always been into edible and medicinal plants, my mom taught me much from birth but I have forgotten much, my grandmother was a healer who used plants almost exclusively. ( Cherokee knowledge mostly). Now it has become almost an obsession with me to learn all I can of edible, medicinal, and otherwise beneficial plants.
    Seabuckthorn was new to me! although I am almost sure I have seen it before. I will research it and learn more.

  2. Pingback: Ray Mears Makes Wild Sea-Buckthorn Juice! | First Ways

  3. ate these a lot in the early winter when i lived on the steppe in asia. there they make wine out of it and a syrup which they use for treating i don’t know what, perhaps an all purpose thing. it is treated kind of like the general purpose way that people treat viatmen c here.

    we planted some on our farm, supposedly 2 females and 1 male back in ’09 and they’ve grown like crazy and looked beautiful in their way but no fruit. don’t know if we really got all males or the soil was too rich or what the problem is. hopeuflly we’ll see some flower buds this year.

    They grew along the railroad tracks in asia. and i just ate them for fresh. the wine that i had from russia wasn’t that great. but it was likely just a cheap bottle, perhaps others make it better.

  4. Hi Becky,
    It’s always good to sea a blog post about Seabuckthorn. It is quite simply the most beautiful plant to behold when densely laden with intense orange berries, especially when off-set against the toned down colours of a winter landscape. Always makes me smile.
    I’ve been harvesting the juice for about 10 years now, usually freezing or pasteurizing. This year I decided on a new experiment: bottled and unpasturized in 2 L plastic bottles. Result: The juice I gathered 2 months ago tastes virtually the same as when it was gathered. No fermentation has occurred (no fizziness whatsoever on opening a new bottle). I drink a cup everyday. Although, these days, I actually drink more seabuckthorn leaf tea: 2-3 times a day. I mentioned the tea in my last blog, that I know you saw, but if anybody else is interested (half way down the blog some pictures and tea making tips):
    http://fergustheforager.co.uk/2013/06/stars-in-the-hedgerow-chickens-in-trees-and-flying-horses/

    Are the pictures you took in Portland or by the coast or from the web? Great pics in any case. ;-)

    Fergus

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